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  • Plan Your Menus Around Seasonal Produce

    In the introduction to the section on side dishes in Ad Hoc at Home, Thomas Keller writes,

    Because these dishes are weighted toward vegetables, they tend to be the most seasonal recipes in the book. . . . So you may well want to plan a meal by choosing one or two side dishes, and then determining what meat or fish would go well with what you’ve chosen.

    That’s a whole new way of thinking to me, as I generally think about varying my proteins with each meal, and then picking a standby side dish to serve with what I have on hand.

    But Chef Keller is right (of course). I’ve been shopping at the farmer’s market almost every week during the summer, and the zucchini, eggplant, peaches, nectarines and strawberries have been incredible. (My oldest and I even sampled dragon fruit for the first time – bleh!)

    I’m starting my foray into cooking my way through Ad Hoc this week with an asparagus dish, because I’m sure asparagus season is coming to an end at the farmer’s market and I know my husband and I (though not the kids) will absolutely adore the Grilled Asparagus with Prosciutto, Fried Bread, Poached Egg, and Aged Balsamic Vinegar (page 156). I’ll get my asparagus at the farmer’s market, my prosciutto at Whole Foods, and I’ll bake my own country loaf for the fried bread using leftover artisan bread dough from tonight’s pizza. I also have a fabulous balsamic vinegar from Trader Joe’s that I love.

    Becoming a Better Home Cook with Thomas Keller

    One blog that I enjoyed reading was French Laundry At Home, in which Carol Blymire cooked her way through renowned chef Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook. Many of the dishes were incredibly complex, and I derived a lot of vicarious pleasure by reading about Carol’s experiences.

    When Thomas Keller came out with Ad Hoc, a book based on his more casual restaurant, I immediately bought it and enjoyed the pictures and idea of the recipes in it. And then I shelved the book.

    I pulled the book out yesterday and started flipping through it again. The recipes really are doable – and they got me thinking. I’ve been feeling like I’m in a rut when it comes to cooking. I find myself making the same things over and over again, and while part of that is due to a lack of time, it’s also partly because I’m a little afraid of trying something new, ruining dinner, and finding myself all stressed out about feeding the kids.

    So . . . I thought of something that would make cooking fun for me again: Cooking my way through Ad Hoc. Although the recipes aren’t too complicated, they are still a little intimidating, in that I feel obligated to acquire the best ingredients possible. But at least I live in Los Angeles, where I can get hold of anything with some searching. This may get a little expensive, but it’ll still be cheaper than going out to eat. I plan to do my experimenting on Fridays or Saturdays, when I don’t have to worry about getting the kids fed and into bed by a certain hour. And I’m hoping that stretching and even going beyond my comfort zone with these recipes will make me a better cook. Plus, I know my husband and I will enjoy the food – and with a little luck, the kids will too.

    I’ll post about the recipes I’m trying, and hopefully my photography skills will improve as well!

    Ideas for leftover macaroni and cheese

    A couple of years ago, I asked for ideas on using up macaroni and cheese after the boys dissed the mac and cheese I made in the rice cooker. I got some terrific suggestions, but never followed up on them here, so I figured it’s better late than never. Thanks to Maranda, Aalarie, Lisa, Camille, Hélène, Katy, Jennifer, Stacee, and the anonymous readers who shared these great ideas:

    Fried macaroni and cheese – Refrigerate leftovers in a baking dish, then cut leftovers into squares (or scoop into balls), dredge in flour, egg and bread crumbs (I would recommend panko for extra crispiness), then fry until golden brown on all sides.

    Chili mac and cheese – Combine leftover macaroni and cheese with some chili.

    Faux hamburger helper – Combine leftover macaroni and cheese with ground beef or turkey. You can add some diced tomatoes, or sneak in other veggies.

    No-bake chicken “casserole” – Stir diced chicken and steamed broccoli into the mac and cheese.

    Ham casserole – Combine mac and cheese with some diced ham and your child’s favorite vegetable, pour into a baking dish, top with breadcrumbs (or crumbled Ritz crackers), and bake until top is golden brown.

    Mac and cheese pizzaCiCi’s Pizza has a mac and cheese pizza on their menu.

    “Confetti” mac and cheese – Shred your child’s favorite vegetables and let her sprinkle them on top like confetti.

    Some New Recipes

    I spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen yesterday because we had company over for dinner, and came up with a new “recipe” for a roast in the slow cooker. I put recipe in quotes because it was a very spur of the moment thing. I had intended to make my usual roast, but at the last second, I decided not to add the soy sauce. But I didn’t measure, not that anything needs to be exact. I had a 4-pound chuck roast, and I poured about 1/3 cup onion powder, 1/4 cup garlic powder, and 1/4 cup seasoned rock salt all over the meat. (You could substitute about 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper for the rock salt.) I left the string on, and cooked the meat on high for about five hours and low for another hour. It came out great, and I got lots of compliments on it.

    This was my first time using my brand new $12 slow cooker, and it worked perfectly. As Marie pointed out, the outside does get quite hot, but all of my slow cookers have been that way since I’ve stayed away from the ones with complicated electronics. I do prefer the oval shaped crock to the round crock like my new cooker has, but I’ll manage since $12 is such a great price.

    For dessert, I made this cookie cake, but I divided the dough in two and froze half. The other half went into a 9-inch springform pan and baked for 25 to 30 minutes until the top was a deep golden brown. I lined the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, and it came out of the pan perfectly intact for a beautiful presentation. The best part was that the cookie topping was really crunchy, so the texture was fabulous.

    I also made this apple cake, although we haven’t tried it yet. I omitted the cinnamon and sugar topping, since I wanted to use sanding or turbinado sugar and didn’t realize I was out until right before I put the cake in the oven. I did taste the batter, though, and it was great, so I expect the baked cake to be quite tasty too.

    What new recipes have you tried lately?

    Morning Coffee: More Printable Coupons

    RedplumThere are new coupons at RedPlum, including $1/2 Skittles, Starburst or Lifesavers, $2/2 Gallo Salame, and $1/1 SlimFast product (which might make for a free bar or can with a good sale!). Links via Logical Media

    It’s been a while since I mentioned it, so I wanted to remind you that I tweet or re-tweet a lot of deals on Twitter that I don’t get to here, or before I do it here. For example, yesterday I re-tweeted a deal from Common Sense with Money about a moneymaker at Walgreens, and I Heart CVS‘s rumored Black Friday deal on close-to-free Sonicare and Norelco razors. You can follow me on Twitter, or subscribe to my Twitter feed via RSS.

    So . . . about that moneymaker deal at Walgreens - at least yesterday, the Tilex/Clorox RR deal was printing two $2 RRs instead of just one, so if you bought two Tilex sprays or Clorox wipes (on sale for 2/$5) and used two $1/1 coupons (Tilex here or Clorox here), you paid $3 and got back $4 in RRs. Sweet! (Via Common Sense with Money.)

    The deals at CVS aren’t very hot this week, so I am going to skip the starter transactions. The only one I would have pointed out is the more or less self-contained Oral B rechargeable toothbrush deal, but that requires $13 + tax out of pocket after coupon if you don’t have any ECBs to roll. But if you’ve been wanting an electric toothbrush, you can’t beat free!

    Stretching a Buck has this week’s Target deals.

    Buried in my feed reader (I’ll be catching up on posts from the last few months for the next week or so):

    The CPSC concluded that there is no proof that Pampers Dry Max diapers causes abnormal skin problems.

    Frugal Dr. Mom shares a recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Quick Bread.

    Zakka Life shares a recipe for Furikake Chex Mix.

    Unclutterer offers some tips for getting the kids to school on time, without stress.

    Disney Cruise Line Vacation Planning DVD
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